[-empyre-] First posting...

Joseph Delappe delappe at unr.edu
Mon Mar 11 12:27:58 EST 2013

Hello all,
First off a big thank you to Claudia and Renate for asking me to take part in this online discussion.  Hello as well to Soraya Murray, I do hope we meet in person some day, your scholarship and teaching sounds fascinating - thank you for posting the various links (looking forward to reading your Grand Theft Auto essay).

Quite honestly I am not entirely sure where to begin here.  I find myself in a rather pensive mood these past few weeks, perhaps it is the approaching 10th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq or maybe the approach of my 50th birthday in May (or maybe a bit of both).  I think it best, as have others, would be for me to further introduce myself to the discussion - although somehow I feel it necessary to go beyond previous "artist's bios" to do so.  I've been wargaming in terms of "playing war" since I was a child.  It was my house on 25th avenue in San Francisco growing up in the 1970's where the neighborhood gang would gather in my father's workshop to build various crude replicas of machine guns and bazookas with which we would use to stage mock battles in the neighboring zephyr groves of the Presidio (at the time a functioning military base).  I grew up obsessed with World War II, watching just about every war movie ever made, reading military history books, building military miniatures and model railroad empires in my basement bedroom.  I fully embraced a very romantic view of the military and had planned for years to join the army on graduating from high school.  I am not sure why World War II although I am sure my mother's family experience, having lived through the siege of Budapest in 1945 and their escape as refugees through the Iron Curtain soon thereafter, had something to do with it.

It was in my sophomore year of high school when I first read Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front", the classic antiwar novel of World War I.  This text led to others, including Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Get Your Gun", "The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane, "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller, "Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut and eventually, at the time, more recently published books (this around 1977-78) by Vietnam vets such as Ron Kovic's "Born on the Forth of July" and James Webb's "Fields of Fire".   Films such as "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now" were as well significant cultural and personal benchmarks.  Just prior to graduating from high school in 1981, with little sense as to what to do upon graduation besides my life-long dream of joining the army, I very nearly signed up.  Oddly enough, it was an army recruiter who came to my house to talk to me about the army who actually talked me out of joining up.  As I recall, he had served in Vietnam (although not in a combat role) - his honesty and the aforementioned books changed my life.

The answer question asked of my one art teacher in high school, "do you think I could be an artist?" (a class taken at the girls school a block away from my all boys Catholic High School) she said "yes!".  The next year I entered City College in San Francisco to study graphic design and illustration, completing my AA degree and entering San Jose State University's program as a transfer student.  Thus, in 1983, as a design major I was encouraged by one of my professors to take a new course entitled "Computers in Art and Design" through a new program called the CADRE Institute (Computers in Art, Design, Research and Education).  I really had absolutely zero interest in computers.  I found this course, however, to be not about computers per se but about what one might do with them and what they might signify in regards to culture, society, politics, art, etc.

In what was the first class taught for this new program, I created my first project that one might consider the be at all game like.  Working on an Apple II computer, I created a program modeled on Joseph Weizenbaum's "Eliza", replacing the non-directional therapist with a Catholic priest to create a "Computerized Confessional".  This was a playful piece wherein visitors to the work would actually kneel before the computer to go through the steps of the Sacrament of Confession.  I soon thereafter found myself becoming less and less interested in becoming a commercial graphic designer - it was a combination of becoming politicized in the early Reagan era in general (due in no small part to my education in Bay Area punk rock, The Dead Kennedy's, MDC, Flipper, etc.) that led me to essentially reject of the notion of heading into a career designing graphics for advertising consumables for the rest of my life.  I was as well reading a variety of books about media technology and critical theory during this time-frame, several key works in this regard would be Jerry Mander's "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television", the aforementioned Joseph Weizenbaum's "Computer Power and Human Reason", Neil Postman's "Expanded Cinema"/"Amusing Ourselves To Death" and Jean Baudrillard's "Simulations" to name a few.   I pretty much missed out on the 1980's as far as video games are concerned although I did become fairly highly ranked/addicted on the Starwars arcade video game that was available in the recreation room of my dormitory in 1984.

I eventually completed the first MFA degree through CADRE in 1990, taking a first teaching job at the University of South Florida (teaching on aging Amigas) through 1993 when we moved to the Reno, Nevada where I have taught "Digital Media" for the past 20 years in the Department of Art.  Much of my creative work over the first ten years out of grad school involved digital imaging and kinetic, electromechanical sculpture/installation - much of this work sought to critique or question our relationship with emerging technologies, simulation, etc.  Worth mentioning is likely the piece, "Masturbatory Interactant" of 1996-97 http://www.delappe.net/masturbatory-interactant-1997/  The repetitive action of the rotating drums allowing for the random scanning of barcodes by the mechanically thrusting scanner eventually scratched the barcodes to such an extent that they could no longer be scanned.  I was intrigued and inspired by this type of mechanical mark-making to create "The Artist's Mouse" http://www.delappe.net/sculpture/the-artists-mouse/.  This piece led to my first use of computer games directly in my creative practice in 1998.  I played levels of "Unreal" using "The Artist's Mouse" to create a series of abstract graphite drawings, each representing a complete mapping of my experience completing levels of the game.

I first came to play FPS games a few years prior to this - buying equipment for our computer lab at UNR from various catalogues (this well before the existence of the Apple Store), some vendors would include CDRoms of various game titles in the shipping boxes with ordered equipment and software.  The first game of this type I played was the original "Marathon" by Bungie Software.  My students were as well starting to play such games - I was intrigued.  To make a long story short, playing "Unreal" to make drawings opened up a world of creative possibilities.

It was in 2001 that I first "performed" inside a computer game.  I had the idea to read poetry through the text messaging system of a FPS match online (inspired in part by reading a biography of Andy Kaufman).  "Howl: Star Trek Elite Force Voyager Online" http://www.delappe.net/play/howl-elite-force-voyager-online/ was the first of a series on online, text based performances.  I typed through the text messaging system, word for word, as "Allen Ginsberg" first in the guise of the wonky Doctor from the TV series (my avatar choice was wonderfully, randomly changed to Seven of Nine after a computer crash).  The entire reading/performance took 6 hours.

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